STRATEGIC PLANNING AND EXECUTION
Create the Roadmap to Effectively Deliver on Your Business Growth Goals
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” — Benjamin Franklin
Strategic planning is a process with great value for your growing business. It represents your best shot at reaping the full benefit of the opportunities in front of you.
Even with the best intentions and good gut instinct, consistently doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way is not something that occurs organically or by chance in any business. And heroic efforts can only take your company so far. Throwing more time, people, or money at obstacles rarely works over the long run.
Marketing and Sales activity in the absence of strategy often results in:
- Budget overruns and ambiguous ROI
- Inability to link efforts with outcomes
- Reactive and random activity rather than intentional and proactive approach
- Misalignment between Marketing, Sales, and Operations efforts
- Inefficient use of resources, wasting time, money and human capital
- Lack of clarity for team members about the path forward
In contrast, a strategic roadmap provides a clearer and easier path to success. It ensures your business growth activities are carried out with intention, purpose, and effectiveness to achieve your most important goals.
The Practical Value of Strategic Planning
Strategic planning establishes a vision and common goals for your business that everyone can understand. It sets a path toward achieving those goals with key strategic initiatives and the tactical and process-driven activities to accomplish those strategies. It clarifies the business case to invest time, money, and resources into those activities to fulfill the strategies that deliver on the goal.
A goal-focused strategic plan provides your company with the awareness, intentionality, priority, and measurable direction to get from where you are today to where you want your business to be. It’s time well-invested so that you know where you are going, you have a clear path to get there, you can measure progress along the way, and you can recognize when you’ve arrived. This is why strategic planning is so essential to the success of every business.
Because strategic planning is an ongoing process, it needs to be scalable and repeatable. Those requirements work best when a framework exists. Your strategic planning framework should offer structure and allow flexibility at the same time. A framework that is too rigid may leave out important parts of your strategic plan. Meanwhile, a framework that is too high-level may not provide the structure needed to make your strategic plan actionable and accountable. There is no single best framework for strategic planning. If you have a favorite that works for you, you should use it. If you don’t, you should find one that is easy to understand, easy to apply and easy to assess.
Investing Time and Resources is inevitable. Make That Investment Strategic.
You are investing time, money, focus, and other resources to operate and grow your business. But are you getting the most value from those investments?
It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind of working “in the business” instead of “on the business.” But it is a costly mistake to neglect strategy at any stage in your business. In fact, a strategic plan is not something you create and then shelve. It is a dynamic document that serves as a guidepost for accountability and focus toward your business goals.
Recognizing the importance of strategic planning is the first step toward preparing for business growth. The good news is that strategic planning doesn’t have to be complicated. However, it does need to be collaborative.
Here’s how you can create a strategic plan that works for your business.
Start with a Framework, Stakeholders, and Facilitation for Your Strategic Planning Process.
Because strategic planning is an ongoing process, it must be scalable and repeatable. A framework makes this easier. Your strategic planning framework should offer structure and allow flexibility at the same time. A framework that is too rigid may leave out important parts of your strategic plan.
A framework that is too high-level may not provide the structure needed to make your strategic plan actionable and accountable.
There is no single best framework for strategic planning. If you have a favorite that works for you, and it’s easy to understand and use, keep using it. Otherwise, you can use the Goal Pyramid. This is a simple and actionable framework for strategic planning at the company level, the department level, and even at the individual level.
The Framework: Simplicity and Order
The Goal Pyramid framework starts with a single, SMART goal at the top.
Next comes the strategy layer, featuring one or more strategies that work together to reach the goal.
Below this is the execution layer, with activities (one-time tactics and ongoing processes) that fulfill the strategies that deliver on the goal.
Finally, the resources layer identifies the people and tools necessary to execute the tactics and processes that fulfill the strategies to deliver on the goal.
Always start at the top of the pyramid and work your way down to ensure that your resources, execution, and strategies are goal-focused.
The Stakeholders: Who Should Be Involved?
Include key stakeholders from your organization in your strategic planning process. These stakeholders should not only include company leaders and decision-makers but also key influencers, thought leaders, and future leaders in your organization that can add value. It is important to have many voices in the room, but there is a limit. If you include more than a dozen people, the process can become unwieldy.
Ask These Questions to Identify Key Stakeholders:
- Does the stakeholder play a critical role in the success of your business?
- Can you clearly identify the contributions the stakeholder adds to your business?
- Does the stakeholder have an increasingly important role in your business?
- Is the stakeholder someone who can be easily replaced in your business?
- Is the value the stakeholder brings duplicated by another stakeholder at the table?
Use the answers to narrow the pool of stakeholders to those who are critical to the strategic planning process. This isn’t the time or place to add people because you like them or simply find them interesting. This is an important process for crafting the direction of your company. Include key people who can add important perspectives to the discussion based on their role, responsibilities, and experience. Also, consider that sensitive materials may be discussed. Discretion and trustworthiness are also important traits.
Selecting a Facilitator
Identify a facilitator who can lead your strategic planning process. The facilitator may be someone from within your team, or it may be an outside consultant. The right person should have:
- Experience at facilitating strategic planning
- Familiarity with the framework and the process you are using
- Exceptional conflict resolution and communication skills
If you do choose someone from within your team to facilitate, be diligent to ensure that the team member doesn’t influence the direction of the process based on their interests, existing relationships with other stakeholders, or even based on their position within the company.
Have an experienced strategic planning facilitator work with your team.
Create a Foundation Based on a Current State Analysis
You need to understand where you are now before you can determine how to get to where you want to be in the future. A current state analysis is a set of processes to help you determine your baseline. Here are a few key activities to start this assessment. You can add more as needed for your business.
Gather current information about the business plan, finances, projections, customer segmentation, and value proposition.
Your business plan may not be lengthy or detailed, but it should include at minimum:
- Business solution (who, what and why)
- Operational structure (people, processes, tools)
- Marketing plan (market, message, media)
- Financial projections (sales, costs, profits)
- Business structure (legal, funding, assets)
The elements of a business plan are interdependent and should evolve over time as your business changes. Although you may have started off as one concept, your business may have shifted over time to include other ideas, solutions, and markets. Your operations, organizational structure, and even overall business structure may have changed. Your marketing and financial models probably changed as you learned more about what worked and what did not work. Revisit and update your business plan to reflect your current state position as an essential part of your strategic planning.
Identify insights from market trends, PEST trends (political, economic, social, technological), and a competitive analysis.
Your business exists in a larger business ecosystem, which means you need to research and revise marketplace factors that influence your success. The competitive landscape influences your opportunity to capture market share. As political, economic, social and technological (PEST) factors change, they also influence the evolution of your organization and need to be considered when putting together your strategic plan.
Clarify the long-term vision, mission, and company values.
It is easier to connect with people when they understand not only what you do, but why you do it. If you clearly state what you believe, and share those beliefs as part of your culture, your vision, and your mission, you’ll attract others who understand and agree with your beliefs. These values are an important influence on developing your strategic plan.
Conduct a SWOT analysis to help determine priorities to best achieve the mission and vision.
A SWOT analysis is an evaluation of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Some items may fall into multiple categories, as a strength can also be an opportunity or even a threat. A weakness can sometimes be the reflection of an opportunity not yet acted upon. Documenting these internal and external influences on your business helps to identify trends and prioritize goals for your strategic plan.
Investing the time to create a current state analysis results in cogent and considered thoughts as you move toward developing your goals, strategies, execution, and resources in your strategic planning process.
A goal is a statement of a desired outcome that feeds the company vision.
When using the Goal Pyramid framework for your strategic planning, the Goal layer is at the top of the pyramid and contains a SMART goal. A SMART goal is a detailed statement of intent that includes unambiguous criteria to better define your goal.
A SMART goal should be…
*Sometimes the “A” is achievable and the “R” is realistic. There may be other slight variations on the words used, but the five key concepts and characteristics of the words are the same.
For best results, be specific. Instead off stating that your goal is to, “grow our business,” you might state, “Grow our revenues by a minimum of 15% with a 22% gross profit margin and an 80% year-over-year client retention rate by the end of fiscal year 2020 to establish our company as an emerging leader in the widget automation market.”
Once you have developed your goal, apply the SMART goal test to your statement. Is your goal:
- Specific: Is it well defined and unique enough to provide a distinct description?
- Measurable: Can you determine quantitative progress toward achieving the goal?
- Attainable: Is the goal something that can realistically be accomplished?
- Relevant: Will accomplishing this goal get your business closer to your vision?
- Time-bound: Is there a specific end date to create urgency and determine success?
SMART goals are the foundation for effective strategic planning. Your SMART goal sits alone at the top of the Goal Pyramid. It’s important to only create one SMART goal per Goal Pyramid. If you have more than one goal (and you probably will), create a different pyramid for each goal. This way, every strategy, every execution tactic or process, and every resource will naturally be goal-focused.
Aim to develop only three active Goal Pyramids at a time. Three goals are more attainable than ten goals. As you complete a goal, you can always build another pyramid and keep the process going. Too often, over-ambition results in failure. If you create effective SMART goals, achieving three over a specified period of time is likely to dramatically evolve your business. Your next goals may be quite different, based on new circumstances, than they were when you originally started out.
Develop Strategies to Reach Your Goals
Strategies are the high-level plans, directions, and programs that work together to lead you to your goals.
As a part of the Goal Pyramid, the Strategies layer is directly below the SMART Goal. Each strategy within this layer of the framework is a part of the overall plan to achieve the goal. After you’ve created your goal at the top of the Goal Pyramid, review your SWOT Analysis (from your current state materials) for ideas on how using your strengths and opportunities to build strategies that will work toward reaching the goal in the top layer.
You must have one or more strategies that can be made actionable by your organization as part of the plan to reach your goal. Having only one strategy to support your goal is like putting all your eggs in one basket. It increases your risk if something goes wrong. Having too many strategies dilutes your ability to effectively deliver on all of the pieces necessary to reach the goal. While there is no absolute number of strategies that make up the perfect mix, experience leans toward three to five strategies as a good target. This number provides enough diversity of thought and action to help you succeed, without overextending your limited time, money, and resources.
Write strategies that clarify your intent. They may include financial, customer, operational and personnel perspectives. Make your strategy statements actionable, short and easy to communicate. As a grammatical structure, the most basic strategy statement consists of an action paired with a descriptor to deliver an outcome. Strategy statements cite a program or plan of action that employs people, processes, and tools to get a result or achieve an objective. Strategies are not, however, a list of the detailed projects, activities, and tasks necessary. Those are part of the Execution layer.
As an example, a strategy might be, “Increase client retention.” It states an intent that is a part of delivering a bigger goal, but it is not the executable step or detail of a project. Instead, it is an actionable intent that requires tactics and processes, perhaps in the form of multiple projects, to reach the desired outcome. Combined with other strategies like, “Add new clients,” “Grow per-client revenues,” and “Develop channel partnerships,” these strategy statements create the “big picture” and a direction for accomplishing a goal.
Prioritize the Tactics and Processes to Execute Your Strategy
Execution is the practical application of knowledge, skills, and abilities to complete necessary activities and tasks.
Using the Goal Pyramid framework, the Execution layer is directly under the Strategies layer.
It consists of both tactics (one-time events or activities) and processes (ongoing events or activities) that are part of a strategic objective, program, or project. Each strategy in the framework aligns with one or more tactics or processes that are specific to completing that strategy, which is aligned with delivering on the goal. The value of the framework, at the Execution layer is ensuring activities and tasks are goal-focused and necessary to help achieve the goal.
Objectives, programs, and projects are defined in this Execution layer, with detailed milestones and deliverables toward completing a strategy. The focus of documenting the execution is on:
- Managing people
- Following processes
- Communicating progress, issues, and resolution
The more detail you can provide around execution delivery, the easier it will be to manage and measure outcomes. Be clear, with a common understanding of each tactic or process, so that there is no confusion or misunderstanding about the expectations and deliverables. Clarity helps stakeholders understand the importance of each activity, enabling sponsorship and resource allocation toward your execution plan. Detail also enables transparency for both stakeholders and team members, and supports better governance, leadership, and management at the execution layer.
Each milestone and deliverable documented in the execution layer can be mapped to a timeline, assigned resources, budgeted for, and measured toward completion. As a part of your strategic planning process, the execution layer creates buy-in at both the executive and sponsorship levels for tactical delivery, assigns responsibility at the team level matched to knowledge, skills, and abilities, and serves as an easy to use tool at the leadership level for accountability, measurement, and progress. Regular communication cascaded up and down your reporting structure provides transparency, learning, and insights in real-time to reduce risks and improve successful outcomes.
Determine the Resources Required to Effectively Execute Your Plan
Resources (at the most basic level) are the people and tools you will need to effectively execute tactics and processes.
Once you understand what you are trying to achieve, you can assess the support requirements for each activity or task. By documenting your resource needs, you understand where to invest to successfully execute on your plan.
In the Goal Pyramid framework, the Resources layer is at the bottom. It only becomes a consideration after you have created a goal, developed one or more strategies to achieve your goal and mapped an execution plan to deliver on each of your strategies. By knowing what you want and how to get there, you can accurately assess if you already have the resources you need to succeed, or if you need to acquire resources.
Key Questions to Assess Available Resources
- Do you have people on your team who have the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to successfully execute?
- Do those people have the bandwidth to become responsible for the execution?
- Do you have the right tools to complete the execution activities and tasks?
- Is it cost-effective to utilize internal resources for these activities and tasks?
Answering these kinds of questions helps you determine your resource needs. Following the Goal Pyramid framework to create your strategic plan builds a well-informed business case for making resource allocation and spending decisions.
Never Start at the Bottom of the Pyramid!
In a culture with short attention spans and an attraction toward what we don’t have, instead of what we do have, it’s important to keep resources as the last part of your strategic planning process. People often fool themselves into thinking they can shortcut their way to success, “if we only had that salesperson,” or “if we buy that piece of technology,” or “if we create this marketing asset.” The truth is that no matter how impressive or inspiring a resource may seem, if it does not directly align along the path to your ultimate goal, it is a distraction at best. It might even be a mistake, wasting time, money, and limited resources.
The Goal Pyramid framework was developed as a top-down approach to making sure your investments in people, processes and tools are focused on achieving your goal. Starting with the “shiny metal objects” may help you get there, or simply may not. By starting at the top and working your way down through the framework, you are goal-focused and aligned at each stage of your strategic planning.
- Start with a SMART goal.
- Develop one or more strategies to achieve that SMART goal.
- Document the execution tactics and processes that deliver on your strategies.
- Source and utilize the resources needed to complete your execution plan.
As you reach the “Resources” layer of the pyramid, you may find HubSpot is one valuable tool to execute on tactics for strategic growth in Marketing and Sales.
Prepare a Strategic Roadmap to Make Your Plan Actionable
Strategies guide your direction and define how you will reach your goals. Plans guide your execution and detail what you will do to deliver on your strategies. All too often, businesses spend time, money and resources in strategic planning only to generate a document that gets shared, reviewed, praised, and then set aside. A strategic plan that is not acted upon is merely a wish list. A strategic plan that is effectively executed is invaluable in achieving goals. Create value in your strategic plan with commitment, investment, and engagement.
Commitment to the Plan Starts at the Top
Gain commitment to your strategic plan from your stakeholders and leaders to reinforce and reaffirm that the time and resources spent on executing the plan are valuable and appropriate to support the vision and direction of the organization. Their support and authority serve to strengthen the team’s confidence in their own work and contribution to organizational goals. Stakeholder commitment demonstrates trust and importance that motivate people and teams and help them to understand the “why.”
Successful execution of a strategic plan requires an investment of time, money, and resources. The plan often contains milestones and deliverables that are outside of the day to day responsibilities of team members. They will need to make time to work on-the-business rather than in-the-business. With an investment in the right resources, accommodations, and rewards, leadership can demonstrate their dedication to achieving goals and working toward an organizational vision.
Create a Visual Representation of Your Plan with Clear Timelines and Responsibilities
Map activities and tasks from your strategic plan to more effectively engage people and teams. By mapping to a timeline, you can visually see the dependencies, timeframes, and workloads of the plan.
Mapping allows you to:
- Prioritize activities, milestones, and deliverables
- Align roles and responsibilities with those who are ready, willing, and able
- Implement detailed action plans to serve as a guide to successful execution
Prioritizing the activities of your execution plan sets clear expectations for delivery, allows for focus on high value, urgent tasks and activities, and identifies dependencies of activities to complete before others can be executed. A simple “A, B or C” prioritization provides clarity on the sequence of completing your execution tactics and processes. When determining the prioritization level, consider the benefits and consequences of the timing and prioritization for each activity, as well as resource availability and constraints. Prioritization helps you strategically consider the order of engagement that maximizes time and resources, rather than operating under the “biggest fire first” or “first in – first out” approaches that may not yield as much benefit and productivity.
Assigning and Defining Roles and Responsibilities
After prioritizing your strategic execution plan, map individuals to roles and responsibilities for each activity. A contributing member has a role in completing the activity. A responsible individual may not be doing the work but has a commitment to make sure it is delivered successfully, on-time, and on-budget. Like prioritization, mapping roles and responsibilities provides clear expectations and allows team members to manage their workload to support the successful completion of the activity. It also prevents any single person from being overloaded with too many roles or too much responsibility that may put the execution at risk. Accountability to roles and responsibilities also creates a culture of ownership.
With prioritization and ownership set, prepare your detailed action plan by plotting tasks, activities, milestones and deliverables for tactics and processes on a timeline. You may use a Gantt chart, project management software, or strategy execution management software for this purpose. Include required resources, budgets, and cost, as well as KPIs and reporting metrics to measure success. This is the step-by-step guide for executing your strategic plan. Once you have your map, you know how to get to where you want to be.
Manage Your Progress with Accountability and Support
Having a strategic roadmap provides clarity and direction toward achieving goals. With the completion of the necessary evaluation and planning for success, the only thing left is to just do it. While the strategic plan may be complete, managing the work and progress of executing on a strategic plan is often where organizations fail. In fact, well over half of all strategic plans are not effectively executed. Strategy execution consistently ranks as one of the top challenges in most organizations.
Strategy execution is the coalescence of decisions, actions, outcomes and communications to advance measured progress toward a stated goal. To effectively execute your strategy, consider this four-step process:
- Set the execution structure
- Manage and mentor teams and people
- Evaluate progress and outcomes
- Communicate and cascade information
This approach has two benefits. First, you actually complete the execution tactics and processes that deliver on the strategies to achieve goals in our Goal Pyramid framework. Second, the process becomes a cycle for continuous improvement, delivering even more value the longer you stick with it.
Supporting Your Team Through the Strategic Execution Process
Setting the execution structure begins by determining who is involved and the responsibilities for each person. Although this should be clarified by the “roles and responsibilities” in your strategic roadmap, it is important to determine and clarify who has decision rights and how far those decision rights extend. Decision rights shift responsibility from executives to team members to align and assign execution tactics and processes. Accountability for successful execution is also shared with the people doing the work, creating an opportunity for leadership training and experience. Setting the execution structure establishes boundaries that enable and empower team members to contribute to the best of their abilities.
Managing and mentoring teams and people provide guidance for what to do and how to do it. Articulate, acknowledge, and address the ideas, concerns, issues, and risks that team members raise. Effective managers know that truly listening and considering input from others helps create confidence and commitment. Provide expertise, training, and mentoring as needed.
Be ready and able to offer the support to up-level the knowledge, skills, and abilities of your team members when they ask. However, be careful not to jump in and take over. Avoid micromanaging the project and the people, so you don’t discourage or even alienate your team members. Leadership is about enabling people to succeed by reaching or exceeding expectations and growing in their potential.
Measuring, Reinforcing, and Optimizing Success
Evaluate progress and outcomes at regular intervals to keep your strategy execution on track. Determine key performance indicators (KPIs) for quantitatively measuring progress toward completion. Measuring a limited number of important KPIs is better than a larger number of tactical KPIs. Make sure you only measure what you will actually use to improve performance toward completing your goal. Measuring too many data points can create an overburdened or even an overly controlling climate that could generate a negative reaction.
- Reward progress and achievement with small successes as well as big ones. Rewards can be as simple as an encouraging comment, a sincere compliment or even a brag to coworkers or other leaders. Everyone appreciates recognition for their efforts and accomplishments.
- Communicate and cascade information, up, down and across your organizational structure. Clarify the “what,” the “how” and the “why” of the strategic plan so everyone on the team can better understand and connect their actions and outcomes to the strategies and goals.
- Report progress toward completion with a regular cadence of daily, weekly or another consistent interval that is appropriate to convey momentum. Frequent progress reports create room for timely review, analysis, and adjustment if necessary.
- Establish an information flow between team members, leaders, and stakeholders to highlight the progress, learning, and insights gained from the execution of your strategic plan. The shared information is valuable for optimizing the action plan, the execution, the strategies and goals across the organization.
Create a Strategic Roadmap for Goal-Focused Execution and More Targeted Outcomes
Strategic planning is about self-evaluation, critical thinking, goal setting, structural organization, team engagement, and executional accomplishments.
To achieve success with a strategic roadmap that works for your business:
- Start with a framework, stakeholders and facilitation
- Create a foundation based on a current state analysis
- Set goals the SMART way
- Develop strategies to reach your goals
- Prioritize the tactics and processes to execute your strategy
- Determine the resources you need to effectively execute your plan
- Prepare a strategic roadmap to make your plan actionable
- Manage your progress with accountability and support
Planning and executing on a growth strategy involves change management, strategic transformation, and accountability for the vision, goals, and culture of an organization. The people and teams that plan, execute, and optimize the strategy are accountable for the behaviors and outcomes that create value for customers, team members, and themselves. To turn a familiar phrase on its head, “Investing in strategic planning, done well, is an investment in your own success.”